About Impetigo

Impetigo is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the surface layers of the skin. It is caused by staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria. These bacteria are very common and live on lots of people's skin or inside the nose without causing any problems. Impetigo develops if the bacteria get inside the skin and multiply. Primary impetigo is when normally healthy skin is affected. A small scratch can allow bacteria to get into the skin where they multiply.

Secondary impetigo is when the infection gets into skin that is already affected by another condition, such as eczema. Impetigo is much more likely to develop where the skin is already damaged.

There are two types of Impetigo:

-Bullous impetigo - which causes large, painless, fluid-filled blisters

-Non-bullous impetigo - which is more contagious than bullous impetigo and causes sores that quickly rupture (burst) to leave a yellow-brown crust

Non-bullous impetigo is the most common type of impetigo, accounting for more than 70 percent of cases.
Impetigo most commonly affects children. This is due to environments, such as schools and nurseries, where the infection can easily be spread.

In the UK, around 3 percent of children up to four years old, and 2 percent of children who are between five to 14 years old get impetigo each year.

Impetigo can sometimes affect adults, for example, when people are living in a confined environment, such as an army barracks.

The infection can sometimes spread to the lymph nodes (lymphadenitis), or to a deeper layer of skin (cellulitis).

Less common complications of impetigo can include:

-arthritis: a condition that causes inflammation (swelling) of the joints and bones

-pneumonia: an infection causing inflammation (swelling) of the tissues in one or more of the lungs

-toxic shock syndrome: a rare, life threatening bacterial infection that releases poisonous toxins into the bloodstream


Western Medicine View

Impetigo is treated with antibiotics, which also works to minimise the risk of it spreading. Its likely to heal by itself in two to three weeks, but because its so easily spread and can lead to more serious infections, its important to get rid of it as quickly as possible. A mild antibiotic cream is usually enough, but in severe cases, tablets may be necessary. This could be because the impetigo is spreading rapidly. With antibiotics, the infection usually clears up in 7-10 days.


Chinese Medicine View

Impetigo is known as both huang shui chuang (yellow water lesion) and nong cao chuang (pus nest lesion). It results from Heat in the Lung and Dampness in the Spleen. Huang shui chuang tends to appear in the form of yellowish blisters around the face, head and ear lobes. It is characterized by large amounts of discharge of fluid and intolerable itching. Impetigo may appear wherever the dribbling yellow fluid touches. The condition may spread all over the body.

According to Chinese Medicine theory certain Chinese herbs can be prescribed to externally treat impetigo. For example, specific herbs might need to be applied externally after being mixed with sesame oil.


Lifestyle Advice

Take precautions to avoid spreading it to other people, particularly newborn babies. These include carefully washing hands after touching affected areas of skin, and not sharing towels or bed linen.

For personalised advice on diet and lifestyle, please ask the doctor during your consultation.

Please be reminded that we offer free online health advice.


Last Updated: December 13, 2012


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